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Posture in prayer 








Montreal, December 18th, 1871. 


flaBtra* in flrager. 

Wayland, in his moral science, defines prayer to be : 
" The direct intercourse of the spirit of man with the 
" spiritual and unseen Creator." " God is a spirit and 
" those that worship him, must worship him in spirit and 
" in truth." 

The explicit declaration contained in the last sen- 
tence, that the worship must be in spirit and in truth, 
seems to preclude the possibility of the efficacy or utility 
of prayer being in any way affected by bodily attitudes. 
Speaking of the subject abstractedly, and considering 
the true character of prayer, namely, the outpouring of 
the heart of man to the Supreme Being, either in un- 
bosoming cares that depress our spirits, or in making 
known our wants, or in expressing our thanks, it seems 
almost profane to take into consideration the comparative 
advantages of bodily position. Prayer is concerned with 
the soul — not with the body ; and those who are sticklers 
in matters of form, merely for the forms sake, without 
strong collateral recommendations in support of their 
opinions, may, on reflection, find themselves much in 
the position of the characters in the fable of the dog, the 
bone, and the shadow. That position should be chosen in 
which we can best pray. It may be as well at the outset 
to state that I am not a disciple, either directly or by 
implication, of such an unchristian tenet as that " pos- 
tures are conducive to truer devotion." Such a pretension 
would, in ordinary circumstances, bear with it its own 

1 1 I J 

death warrant ; but, when it receives countenance from 
those having authority, it may be not unprofitable to 
explain its fallacy. In the present instance the preva- 
lence of false notions arising from mis-statements invest- 
ing forms with unauthorized preference and sanctity, 
and the deleterious influences resulting therefrom, is my 
justification for writing on a subject that might be con- 
sidered beyond my province, bordering closely on the 
confines of theology, and, in ordinary circumstances, of 
no interest to the general public. 

In private prayer, it is plain that that position of the 
body will be chosen which a broken and a contrite spirit 
may suggest. If the suppliant have been taught in 
childhood to kneel, he will kneel intuitively. As a 
general rule it may be stated that in private prayer, 
kneeling is the more prevalent form, and numerous are 
the instances, both in the old and the new Testaments, in 
which this posture is spoken of in connection with 
individual devotion. It is not the corporal bowing down, 
however, that has weight with the Judger of hearts. 
Indeed it may be fairly questioned, whether or no the 
most sincere prayers, those conceptions of the soul most 
akin to G-odship, are produced during the conventional 
prostration of the body in any form. The probability is, 
that such a disposition of mind and heart is incompatible 
with any thought for the body, but is produced by 
external operating causes, as in the presence of great 
calamities, at the bedside of a friend or relative about 
to shuffle off this " mortal coil," or, to return to a 
more congenial subject of contemplation, when the 
strains of music stir the soul to its depths in glowing 
admiration of that which is good, and true, and sacred. 

However, in order that there should be uniformity 
in assemblies for public worship, it is expedient that 
certain forms should be adopted and practised, and at 
present throughout Christendom the rival postures for 
preference at prayer are standing and kneeling. " Even 

"in external forms and ceremonies," says the late Dr. 
Mathieson, ^ "union is an object most desirable, an 
" object to be kept constantly in view, and its attainment 
11 aimed at in the pure spirit of brotherly love." From 
what has been already said and quoted, it may be infer- 
red that neither form is entitled to any preferential claim 
on the merits generally. Thus if a number of persons 
were about to form a new sect, it might be a matter of 
indifference what posture was adopted and practised, 
though it is natural to expect that that form would be 
chosen which is supported by the greatest amount of 
scriptural authority. But the issue is somewhat different 
when we put in question the appropriateness of a form 
of long standing in a christian body. In this case, if the 
existing form be founded on scriptural authority and 
not absolutely inconvenient, it is justifiable and but 
reasonable to demand the grounds of exception to it, and 
the reasons for adopting another in preference. But 
more of this hereafter. 

Meantime let us examine what postures in prayer 
are spoken of most frequently in scripture. We find 
that sometimes the suppliant stood, sometimes he knelt, 
and on other occasions, prostrated himself or cast his face 
upon the ground. No posture, however, is commanded 
in scripture. N eander, tells us t that, "The christian 
" fathers combatted a superstitious notion which attached 
" great importance to certain bodily postures and certain 
" outward ceremonies in prayer." Moreover the same 
erudite writer seems to countenance the opinion that the 
words " kneeling," " bowing," " cast down," &c, are 
sometimes, at least, used figuratively in scripture ; thus, 
speaking of Phiiippians ii, 10 : " At the name of Jesus 
" every knee should bow," &c, he says : " The apostle 
" seems to refer to the spiritual bowing of the knee, since 

* Sermon before Synod, 1861. 

f Ryland's translation, London, 1852. 


il the heart throws itself down before G-od in the iiattte 
** of Jesus, and humbles itself in his presence." Why- 
should not the same interpretation be applied to Psalm 
xcv. 6, and to Isaiah xlv. 23, where the bowing of 
the knee is spoken of in almost precisely the same 
words ? Moreover, prostration, or casting one's face upon 
the ground, should not be confounded with kneeling, 
and few would now choose it as a form of worship in the 
modern christian church. Those who desire to look into 
what scriptural usage was, may be saved considerable 
research, by referring to a table appended to this pam- 
phlet, which comprises a number of texts in , which 
standing and kneeling are referred to in the Bible.^ 
Upon the whole it will probably be admitted by 
any candid investigator, that, while both forms are 
recognised by scripture, there is a decided preponder- 
ance of scriptural usage in favor of standing at prayer. 
This might be demonstrated by a comparison of texts. 
It is also worthy of notice that in nearly every instance 
in which kneeling is referred to as the devotional atti- 
tude, it is connected with individual or private prayer. 
The Jews invariably stood at prayer in their synagogues, 
and it must not be forgotten that the model of the 
christian service is that of the synagogue, and not that 
of the temple. The two most remarkable prayers in the 
old testament, namely, that of Solomon at the dedication 
of the temple (2 Chron. v. 3,) and that of Ezra after the 
captivity, (Mehemiah vii) at both of which the people 
stood, and several other passages, show conclusively 
what the custom was among the Jewish congregations, 
whereas the words of our Saviour to his disciples in com- 
mending christian charity, (Mark xi, v. 25) : " When ye 
" stand praying, forgive," &c, seem to recognise the an- 
cient practice. It is true that at the dedication of the 

* Those who desire to extend their researches, may consult with 
advantage " Cruden's Concordance," than which it were difficult to find a 
more perfect monument of literary industry. 

temple, Solomon knelt before the altar, and other instan- 
ces are to be found in which the priest acted simi- 
larly. "When however the priest turned towards the con- 
gregation, both he and the people were accustomed to 
stand at prayer, and the few instances in which kneel- 
ing is spoken of in public worship rather show what the 
exception was, than that it ever was the recognised atti- 
tude of devotion by the ancient Jewish or early christian 
congregations. Moreover we are informed by Neander, 
tJiat in the early christian church ; " On Sunday, instead 
11 of kneeling, an upright posture was adopted as more 
" expressive of the joyful feeling that Christ had raised 
" fallen man to heaven." This opinion is supported by 
Etjsebitjs and Jtjstyn Martyr, who tell us that on the 
Lord's day, and during the feast from Easter to Whit- 
Sunday, the people stood at prayer, the better to com- 
memorate with joyful thanksgiving Christ's resurrection 
and our spiritual resurrection through Him. In contra- 
distinction we are informed^ that there existed in the 
early christian church a class called Penitents, composed 
of persons who were cut off from the privileges of church 
fellowship for apostacy, or some breach of the moral 
code established. They were only re-admitted into the 
church after a course of humiliatory exercises. Touch- 
ing the nature of these humiliatory exercises, Riddle, 
in his " Christian Antiquities," f tells us that the first 
three classes of Penitents were forbidden to stand during 
prayers ; they were obliged to kneel. 

Among barbarous nations, however, from early times, 
kneeling, whether induced by fear or reverence, has 
been the most prevalent posture of prayer to the gods, 
and it is probable that the practice crept into the christian 
church, and was tolerated by the friends of Christianity, 
inasmuch as this posture was then indigenous among 

* Denominational Reason Why, page 12. 
f pp. 589—600. 

the Gentile nations, and as the disciples looked more to 
displacing false doctrine than to interfering with estab- 
lished forms. Kneeling at prayer thus became engrafted 
to a large extent on the early christian church, not 
by evangelical teaching, but by prescription and cus- 
tom. However, it may be proper to mention that 
kneeling never wholly superseded standing in the 
christian church as a posture of prayer, nor has it done 
so in the present Roman Catholic Church. Indeed it is 
a circumstance worthy of note, that at the celebration 
of the ordinary, or low mass, the congregation kneel at 
prayers, whereas at the corresponding prayers in the 
high, or the pontifical masses, the congregation stand. 
Thus in the high, or pontifical masses, the people stand 
at the prayer commencing " Gloria in excelsis Deo," 
(Glory to God in the highest,) and at the " Credo," or 
Creed ; they also stand at the " Pater Noster," or Lord's 
Prayer, and at that part of the preface commencing 
" Yere dignum et justum est sequum et salutare nos tibi 
auferimus." Such is the practice of the Roman Catholic 
Church in our own days. 

Now at the time of the Eeformation some churches 
left the papacy, but still retained a number of its pecu- 
liar forms. Such was the Episcopal Church of England 
which inherits the custom of kneeling at prayer from 
the Roman Catholic Church and transmits it to the 
bodies dissenting from itself, as to the Methodists and 

In certain other churches, however, the protest 
against the papacy was more complete, comprising a 
radical change not merely in doctrine, but in forms of 
church worship. Such were the Swiss or Calvinistic 
Church at Geneva, the German Reformed Church, and 
the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. These denomina- 
tions dissented not merely against matters of doctrine 
in the then existing Roman Catholic Church, but 
against the forms and ceremonies also, and their first and 

most decided step was to declare the Scriptures of the 
Old and the New Testaments their only rule of faith. 
From this sacred source also they proceeded to extract a 
form of worship, adhering as closely as possible to the 
simple formula of the primitive church. Finding a pre- 
dominance of scriptural authority, as they thought, in 
favour of standing at prayer in public assemblies ; 
finding that this was the invariable form existing among 
the Jews ; nay, finding, that it received Christ's sacred 
recognition, * it is not unnatural that the early Cal- 
vinistic and Presbyterian reformers should have made 
choice of the standing posture. The other forms of 
the Church then selected, though ample, were few and 
simple, and quite in accord with the symetry of the new 
worship, which was, and still is typical, in its freedom 
from superfluity, of the straight forwardness of Scottish 
character. " During the singing the Congregation sit, and 
" stand while the prayers are being offered. This has been 
" the custom in the Church of Scotland from the first "f and 
Dr. Robert Jamieson confirms the early practice in the 
following words," The people all rise at the prayer, which 
is offered by the Minister, standing also in front of the con- 
gregation The public prayers are always without the 

shackles of prescribed forms" 

The Presbyterian Church is rather characterised by 
an absence of form. Worship of a Supreme Being was 
the predominant feature that the early Presbyters sought 
to stamp on the new worship, and the simplest possible 
forms were adopted in order that the people should 
place no stress on these things, but rather on that which 
must ever continue the soul of the Presbyterian service, 
the heartfelt, earnest, truthful utterances of Christ's 
deputy in the pulpit, and the willing, fervent responses 
of the heart thereto. And by this means, " The sword of 

* Mark xi. 25. — " When ye stand praying forgive if ye have aught 
against any, &c." 

f The Religions of the World, page 127. 


the Spirit," the Church of Scotland has held since its 
foundation, and must now, and for all time, " hold her 
" right place in the affections of the people generally, and 
" of the rising generation particularly," and not by any 
sentimental efforts at adapting her time honored all-suf- 
ficient forms of worship to " the tastes of an age of 
rapidly growing culture and refinement " ! 

Now apart from the Scriptural sanction which 
standing at prayer in public assemblies receives — apart 
from the prevalency of this posture in many reformed 
churches, and to some extent even in the Roman Catho- 
lic Church, it has another claim to continuance peculiar 
to those christian bodies that adopted it from their in- 
cipiency. For once that standing became the established 
attitude of public prayer in our Church, its perpetuity 
therein is fixed, provided its claims to adherence are 
equal to those of any other rival posture. 

Dr. Whately is celebrated as a writer on Logic and 
Rhetoric ; he is considered a fair authority in matters of 
reasoning. He says, * 

" There is a presumption in favor of every existing 
" institution. Many of these (we will suppose the 
" majority,) may be susceptible of alteration for the 
" better, but still, the burden of proof lies with him who 
" proposes an alteration, simply on the ground that because 
" a change is not a good in itself, he who demands a 
" change, must show cause for it. No one is called on 
" (though he may find it advisable) to defend an existing 
" institution till some argument is adduced against it : 
" and that argument ought in fairness to prove not 
" merely an actual inconvenience, but the possibility of 
" a change for the better." f 

Standing having been from the time of the final 
establishment of the Presbyterian form of worship in 

* Rhetoric p. 91. 

f Stet presumptio donee probetur in contrario. 


Scotland, the undeviating attitude of prayer in the 
Kirk, there is, apart from its other claims to preference, a 
presumption in favour of its orthodoxy. Long continued 
custom has animated in law. He who would displace 
it, must show that the existing form is not only actually 
inconvenient, but that there is a " possibility of a change 
for the better," and must use none but legitimate means 
in effecting the change. The burden of proof lies with 
him who proposes the alteration. Now let us see what 
the " argument against " the existing posture, is and to 
what extent the advocates of the proposed one " show 
cause" for the change. It is but reasonable to expect 
that they, being technically speaking-the Plaintiffs, have 
some proof to bring forward in support of their opinions. 
" Proof devolves upon him who declares, not upon him 
who denies," * is a maxim of many centuries standing 
— and speaking of the nature of proof, Sir William 
Hamilton, the logician, no mean authority, says f that 
in matters of reasoning, " nothing is to be begged, bor- 
rowed or stolen." 

Now, to our astonishment, the adherents of the kneel- 
ing posture do not pretend that there is any inconven- 
ience in standing at prayer, and their pretension in con- 
sequence loses one element of strength ; neither do they 
pretend that a change from standing to kneeling at 
prayer is a question of importance ; on the contrary it is 
admitted directly and inferentially that it is compara- 
tively " trilling." Therefore as regards the Presbyterian 
Church the pretensions of the advocates of the kneel- 
ing posture fall to the ground, and the standing posture 
is entitled to a verdict without entering upon a defence. 

This is considering the question as regards the 
Presbyterian Church, but it must be remembered that 
in Churches, in which kneeling at public worship is the 

* Ei incumbit probatio, qui dicit non qui negat. — The Digest. 
| Logic p. 371. 


more prevalent posture, and has been established there- 
in for a considerable time*, as in the Roman Catholic and 
Episcopal Churches, the presumption is, in these cases, 
in favour of kneeling, as being the existing form, and the 
burden of proof of the superiority, or convenience of any 
other form would devolve upon those desiring its adop- 

Now it would appear that, on the merits of standing 
and kneeling in public worship there is a predominance 
of scriptural usage in favor of standing : it is moreover 
true that as regards the Presbyterian Church in particu- 
lar, the standing posture has by long established custom 
animated in law as .effectually as if it had been estab- 
lished by a special act of the Assembly. If I am correct 
in these two grounds, they are sufficient to decide this 
question in favour of the standing posture. 

But perhaps there are some for whom this reasoning 
is not sufficient. There is in most communities an unen- 
viable class of persons, who renounce reason altogether in 
matters even remotely appertaining to theology. They 
follow what they call, by a misnomer, their own con- 
viction. Ask them for a reason — and they set up that 
invulnerable defence — " Zeal for the Lord." We have 
all heard these words before, " Zeal for the Lord" — until 
they have become a familiar unmeaning phrase. They 
have an ambiguous history, and are never to be taken 
on credit. The genuine article presumedly represented 
by these words has been remarkably rare in all ages — 
even now, there are very many counterfeits of the origi- 
nal " Zeal for the Lord." With this same warrant have 
not Papists burnt heretics ? With this same warrant 
have not Protestants butchered Papists ? And, with this 
same warrant, do not many even in our days seek 
exemption from the amenities of reasoning men ? Behind 
this Chinese wall they find a lurking place : "As if," to 
quote the words of Froude the Historian ; "As if it were 


" beyond all doubt they were on G-od's side — as if serious 
" inquiry after truth was something which they were 
" entitled to resent. They treat intellectual difficulties 
" as if they deserved rather to be condemned and 
" punished than considered and weighed, and rather 
" stop their ears and run with one accord upon any one 
" who disagrees with them than listen patiently to what 

" he has to say." "Do what we will, reason must 

" be our ultimate authority," and he who renounces it 
has been by the same author not inaptly compared to, 
" a man sitting on the end of a plank and deliberately 
" sawing off his seat." 

But I am aware that certain excuses — for I cannot 
demean the word reason by using it in this connection — 
I am aware that certain excuses are put forward in forma 
pauperis, with a view to begging a preferential claim for 
kneeling ; it will however be seen, on examination, that 
this unwarranted demand for charity is a fraud. 

It is now-a-days asserted, that there is a defection 
from the Presbyterian Church, by reason of the dissatis- 
faction felt by the present generation with the " severely 
simple service" that sufficed for our fathers. This is a 
gratuitous assertion wholly unsupported by proof, and 
to meet it by a counter assertion, I may say that I never 
knew a genuine Presbyterian family to leave our Church 
for this cause. Grranting, however, for the sake of argu- 
ment, that there is a defection from Presbyterianism, are 
a few admittedly " really trifling," changes in form any 
guarantee for the continued allegiance of the wavering ? 
If so, our Church has assuredly a slight claim on its ad- 
herents. Perhaps a more effectual cure for defection 
would be to hold out to the unstable, not mere ideal or 
sentimental recommendations, however congenial these 
may be to those loving " a show of wisdom in will-wor- 
ship and humility," but rather, if reference to this sub- 
ject be deemed necessary, the beauty and simplicity of 


the existing forms, and the yet greater beauty, simplicity 
and sanctity of the religion of which these forms are 
the mere concomitants. For after all, 

" Compared with this, how poor Keligion's pride, 
" In all the pomp of method and of art, 
" When men display to congregations wide, 
" Devotion's ev'ry grace, except the heart ! " 

Here I may incidentally mention, that the more 
plausible reason why not a few of the rising generation 
who were born Presbyterians, desert their own Church 
and connect themselves with other christian denomina- 
tions, is not on account of the severity of our Church 
service, but rather on account of coldness and want of 
interest on the part of their co-religionists. Scotch Pres- 
byterians are, perhaps, unhappily peculiar in this respect. 
Moreover, the increasing mania (in most cases pardon- 
able) for wealth, and its consequent acquisition ; the mania 
of others to be considered wealthy, and the common 
desire on the part of both " to do the grand," chill the 
fellowship that should exist among the members of the 
same church, and drive some of our co-religionists to seek 
communion with other christian denominations of more 
congenial temperament, where greater sociality prevails 
and a greater interest is taken in the young, the poor, 
and the stranger in the congregation. Upon reflection 
it may occur to some, that this personal coldness, this 
want of christian cordiality, and not the " severely simple 
service that contented their parents," is with many the 
most " grievous hindrance " to their remaining in com- 
munion with the Church of Scotland ; and that more 
knowledge of the heroic struggles of our church, and a 
little more practical Christianity among its members, and 
not a resort to a mere temporary sentimental subterfuge, 
would prove the surest panacea against desertion from 
its ranks. 

But it is impliedly asserted by some that a change 
from the standing to the kneeling posture in prayer 


would be "conducive to truer devotion," and that it 
would " help to make our frame of mind more devout. >, 
What a libel on christian intelligence ! Is the nature 
of prayer affected by a bodily attitude ?* Has not the 
testimony of all ancient and modern moralists and theo- 
logians been opposed to such an unpardonable misrepre- 
sentation ? Have not Cyprian, Tertullian,! Origen, 
Ambrose, Augustin, Chrysostom, and a host of other 
writers on the nature of prayer, taught that devotion 
depends " not on a certain posture of the body, but a 
certain posture of the heart," and buried centuries ago 
" the superstitious notion which attached great impor- 
tance to certain bodily postures and certain outward 
ceremonies in prayer ? " Why should modern Chris- 
tians seek the resurrection of the errors of an age of 
superstition ? Prayer consists in " worship, in spirit 
and in truth," not in form.J "Prayer is the direct inter- 
course of the spirit of man with the spiritual and unseen 
Creator." || Mere corporal posture, then, can never con- 
stitute an element of devoutness in the sight of God. It 
is however maintained by some that kneeling is more 
impressive, (in the sight of man I presume, as the Cre- 
ator is not likely to come under such influences.) 

Query : Are those desirous of effecting a change in 
the mode of worship at prayer actuated by a desire to 
please God, or man ? If to please God — they have 
chosen the wrong subject, for we have seen that the Deity 
is not likely to be affected by mere externals. But if to 
please man, then let us examine the innate characteristics 
of kneeling and standing as forms of worship at prayer, 

* Froude, speaking of forms and ceremonies, thus summarily gibbets 
this crotchet : — " When we come to think that they possess in themselves 
" material and magical virtues, then the purpose which they answer is to 
" hide God from us, and make us practically into Atheists." 

f " Deus non vocis, sed cordis auditor est, sicut conspector." Tertul. 
de orat., § 13. 

t Compare the example of the self-righteous pharisee and the penitent 
publican, both of whom stood. 

|| Wayland's Moral Science, p. 170. 


from a human stand-point, in so far as these are suscepti- 
ble of examination and description. Taking the appre- 
ciation of peoples living synchronously with, or a few 
centuries after, our Saviour, we find as already stated that 
in some cases kneeling, when connected with public wor- 
ship, was regarded as an attitude not of humility, but of 
humiliation, and that in contradistinction, standing was 
the attitude of prayer on the Lord's day in joyful thanks- 
giving for the resurrection of Christ. Granting, how- 
ever, that kneeling is often expressive of humility and 
reverence, and that it is recognized by scriptural usage, 
it is in many respects but a relic of barbarism, and even 
in the present day, is not unfrequently expressive of 
fear, ignorance and debasement. The subject of the 
despot still cringes on bended knee in the presence of 
his master. And in imitation of this vestige of tyran- 
ny, by a strange interversion of etiquette for selfdom, 
ambassadors are accustomed, by way of courtesy, to kneel 
in the presence of an earthly sovereign, but in the pre- 
sence of the majesty of genius and worth, the freest and 
most intelligent assemblies rise and remain standing in 
gratuitous, dignified, admiration, and reverence. This 
discrimination is not made in disparagement of forms 
adopted, and very properly cherished, by other christian 
denominations, neither is it purely volunteered ; it is 
almost unavoidable from the necessity of ridiculing the 
puerile representations, not uncommonly urged, in favor 
of kneeling, as being a more reverent and more graceful 
position. Kneeling is unobjectionable in itself as a pos- 
ture of prayer, but when its devotees in the Presbyterian 
Church, by way of comparison with the existing form, 
urge its superiority, we naturally ask for its pedigree. On 
the other hand, the standing attitude, apart from its scrip- 
tural sanction, is a posture better adapted to secure uni- 
formity than kneeling, which has a tendency to dege- 
nerate into sitting. Standing, too, is expressive of truth- 
fulness, confidence and hope, never of debasement, and 


when connected with prayer in public assemblies, is in- 
disputably impressive. This much at all events may be 
said of it, not by way of recommendation, because it 
needs no such aid — though a " severely simple" form of 
prayer, it has never been the attitude of idolatry; 
nor has any people, so long as they adhered to it as 
their posture in public prayer, ever become the 
slaves of political or ecclesiastical domination. Where- 
fore then, the alleged superiority of kneeling? Perhaps, 
however, kneeling, under some new system of discipline, 
has acquired devoutness and impressiveness from being 
interchangeable with, or rather supplemented by, the 
sitting posture at prayer. We make every allowance 
for the aged and infirm, it is meet that their comfort 
should be consulted. Kneeling, however, has not 
sated the popular taste for change, and the highly farci- 
cal sitting posture must needs bear sway as a compro- 
mise between the bad taste of standing, and the scarcity 
of kneeboards. Albeit, it is much more distingue to sit 
than stand at prayer, and this new hand-maid of inno- 
vation may in turn assert its priority of claim over 
kneeling, but I must forbear : I am an " Innocent abroad" 
at prophecy, and moreover I must not be irreverent ; 
this may be some new attempt at " improvement in our 
Church service," in keeping with ".the much higher 
style of education that now obtains," in order to enable 
the Church of Scotland "to hold her right place in the 
affections of the people generally and of the rising 
generation particularly," with a view to " adapting her 
service to the tastes of an age of rapidly growing culture 
and refinement" ! ! 

Now, having seen that the standing posture in public 
prayer is scriptural, that in the Presbyterian Church, 
there is a presumption in favour of its orthodoxy, and 
that these reasons are more than sufficient to warrant 
its continuance in that Church ; having seen, moreover, 
that the claims of the kneeling posture, as against the 


standing, on the alleged ground that the former is the 
more impressive and more " conducive to truer devo- 
tion," are altogether fallacious and visionary, and not 
founded either in fact or in moral science, we may con- 
clude that there is no valid reason, pretext, or excuse for 
the attempted innovation of kneeling for standing in the 
Presbyterian Church. 

But, as I am disposed to treat the subject on the 
broadest possible grounds, let us glance briefly at what 
might be termed its legal aspect and assume that there 
is plausible reason for the innovation of kneeling for 
standing. By what means could the change be legitim- 
ately effected ? To appreciate this question we must 
understand the Presbyterian mode of Church Govern- 
ment. Unlike that in many other christian denomina- 
tions it is effected by a gradation of Courts called respec- 
tively Kirk sessions, Presbyteries, Synods and Assemblies, 
" bound together," says Dr.HiLL * " by that subordination 
which is characteristical of Presbyterian Government," 
and forming a perfect safe-guard around the constitution 
and a barrier against innovation of any kind without a 
thorough investigation. In many other Christian deno- 
minations these superior judicatories do not exist ; such 
are the Independents and Congregationalists. In these, 
the clergyman and trustees or deacons manage the 
affairs lay and ecclesiastical of the Church, and the Con- 
gregation itself is the highest Court of Appeal. In the 
Church of Scotland there is a judicial power vested in 
its four judicatories, but the legislative power both ori- 
ginates and ends with the General Assembly. In this 
Country this legislative power would I presume vest in 
the Synod. Each superior judicatory exercises a 
supervision over the inferior. Dr. Hill, f thus 
summarily defines this : " In all Governments conducted 

* Theological Institutes, 
f Theological Institutes, 


" by men, wrong may be done from bad intention, from 
" the imperceptible influence of local prejudices, or from 
" some other species of human infirmity. To prevent the 
" continued exercise of wrong, it is provided in every good 
" Government that sentences which are complained of 

" may be reviewed This is the great principle 

" of our republican constitution, which does not invest 
" any individual with a control over his brethren, but 
" employs the wisdom and impartiality of a greater num- 
" ber of counsellors to sanction the judgments, or to cor- 
' ; rect the errors of a smaller.' 1 

" The Kirk session," says Dr. Cook, in his Styles of 
procedure, " is the lowest judicatory in the Church of 
" Scotland, and is composed of the minister of the parish, 
" together with a certain number of lay elders." Now, 
assuming that a number of persons wishing the standing 
posture in prayer to be displaced, and the kneeling one 
substituted therefor, should come to a Kirk session mak- 
ing representations in favour of the change, or assuming 
that the Kirk session itself, or any of its members, lay or 
clerical, should take the initiative in bringing about 
this change, it is plain that for want of jurisdiction 
it could not adjudicate on the merits of the ques- 
tion, either directly by taking a vote among its own 
members, or indirectly by referring the matter to the 
congregation. " It is the business," says Dr. Cook,^ 
" It is the business of the session to exercise a general 
" superintendence over the religious state of the parish 
" and the morals of the people, to settle the time for dis- 
" pensing the ordinances of religion, to judge of the 
" fitness of those who desire to partake of them, to exer- 
11 cise discipline on those accused or guilty of scandalous 
" offences, and to grant certificates of character to par- 
11 ties removing from the parish." There is nothing in 
this that can be construed into authority to tamper with 

Styles of procedure in the Church Courts of Scotland. 


the existing forms of worship ; the want of the legisla- 
tive function in the Kirk session precludes the possibility 
of any legitimate attempts at innovation of any kind. 
But if further authority be required on this point, let us 
go the bottom of the question, and see what are the in- 
dividual obligations of the members composing a Kirk 
session to preserve intact the existing worship. To say 
nothing of the " Barrier Act" passed in 1697, which, 
according to its preamble, was enacted for " preventing 
"any sudden alteration, or innovation, or other prejudice 
" to the Church, in either doctrine, worship, discipline or 
" Government now happily established therein," let us 
see what are the ordination vows of an elder and minister 
respectively in th3 Presbyterian Church. First as to an 
elder. He must among other questions answer the fol- 
lowing in the affirmative. 

" Are you persuaded that the Presbyterian Govern- 
ment and discipline are founded upon the word of God 
and agreeable thereto ? " " Do you promise that in your 
" practice you will conform yourself to the said worship ; 
" that you will submit yourself to the said discipline and 
" Government ; that you will never endeavour directly, 
" nor indirectly the prejudice or subversion of the same ; 
" and that you will follow no divisive courses from the 
" present establishment in the Church."^ 

So much for the elder, now as to the minister ; after 
ordination to his sacred office, he is required to sub- 
scribe a declaration embodying the substance of the 
questions that must be answered affirmatively by him 
before his appointment. It is as follows : — , 

11 I do hereby declare that I do sincerely own and 
" believe the whole doctrine contained in the Confession 
" of Faith, approven by the general Assemblies of this na- 
" tional Church and ratified by law in the year 1690, and 
" frequently confirmed by divers acts of Parliament since 

* Hill's Practice, p. 7. 


" that time, to be the truths of God, and I do own the same 
" as the confession of my faith ; as likewise I do own the 
" purity of worship presently authorized and practised in 
" this Church, and also the Presbyterian Government and 
" discipline now so happily established therein ; such doc- 
" trine, worship and Church Government, I am persuaded are 
" founded upon the word of God, and agreeable thereto ; and I 
"promise that through the grace of God I shall firmly and con- 
" stantly adhere to the same ; and to the utmost of my power 
" shall in my station assert, maintain, and defend the said 
" doctrine, worship, discipline, and Government of this 
" Church by Kirk sessions, Presbyteries, Provincial Syn- 
" ods and General Assemblies ; and that I shall in my prac- 
" lice conform myself to the said worship and submit to the 
" said discipline and Government, and never endeavour, 
" directly or indirectly, the prejudice or subversion of 
" the same ; and I promise that 1 shall follow no divisive 
" course from the present establishment in this Church ; 
" renouncing all doctrines, tenets, and opinions what- 
" ever, contrary to, or inconsistent with the said worship, 
" discipline or Government of this Church."^ 

Can we well conceive of a stronger document ? 
Daniel O'Connell said he could drive a coach and 
four through any statute, but he probably would have 
made exception of the foregoing declaration, had he been 
aware of its existence. Yet we do find people in our 
day sufficiently presumptious to try this feat, though I 
am not aware oi any who have escaped strangling, at 
some stage of the attempt. 

Among the acts of Parliament referred to in the 
foregoing declaration, is one passed in the reign of Queen 
Anne, Edinburgh, 1707 ; It is very important and pro- 
vides, inter alia, "that the form and purity of worship pre- 
" sently in use within this {Presbyterian) Church, and its 
" Presbyterian Church Government and discipline, (that is 

* Cook's Styles of Procedure, pp. 96-7. 


" to say, the Government of the Church by Kirk sessions, 
" Presbyteries, Provincial Synods, and General Assem- 
" blies, all established by the foresaid Acts of Parliament, 
" pursuant to the claim of right) shall remain and continue 
" unalterable." 

Whence then does a Kirk session derive its power 
to contravene the constitution of the Church ? In fact, 
in Scotland, innovations are so effectually guarded 
against, that the Greneral Assembly, (the highest Court 
and the only legislative body in the Church,) without 
the concurrence of a majority of the Presbyteries, cannot 
enact any standing law. 

Seeing the restrictions placed on the highest Court 
in our Church, and with the duties and obligations of 
the individual members of a Kirk session so plainly and 
forcibly defined, it is obvious that to take cognizance of 
anything having reference to a change in the form of 
worship is beyond its jurisdiction. Neither should the 
matter be referred by the Kirk session to the Congrega- 
tion, for this is ignoring the higher Courts and submit- 
ting it to an incompetent tribunal. The plain duty of a 
Kirk session, in the case supposed, would be to refer 
those desiring the change to the higher Courts. But 
should a Kirk session fail to do this and proceed to adju- 
dicate on a matter beyond their control, either directly 
by taking a vote on the merits between themselves, or 
indirectly by ignoring the legitimate procedure, and 
referring it to the Congregation, then it is competent for 
any member of the Church into which the abuse has 
crept, to apply by complaint or appeal to the higher 
Courts against the illegal proceedings of the Kirk session, 
unless, through Christian charity, he should prefer to 
petition the latter directly, in order to allow this Court 
an opportunity to undo what it had illegally done or 
countenanced, and thus save itself the humiliation of 
having its illegal action condemned and quashed by the 
Superior tribunal. 


Moreover so perfect is the judicial machinery of the 
Presbyterian constitution, and so perfectly protected is 
it, that in the event of no appeal or complaint being 
made against innovation, in individual churches, we 
are informed by Dr. Hill^ that : " The Superior Court 
11 may take up the business by exercise of its inherent 

" right of superintendence and control." 

" A Superior Court," continues the same high authority, 
" may at any time issue a peremptory mandate for the 
" production of the books of its subordinate judicatories ; 
" and having the whole train of its proceedings thus 
" regularly submitted to its inspection, it may take such 
" measures, as upon this review appear to be necessary 
" in order to correct errors, to redress wrongs, or to 
" enforce the observance of general rules, &c." 

" Such a right of executive power exercised with 
" wisdom," says Dr. Jamieson, " and in the spirit that 
" should characterise a christian Court, is calculated to 
11 be of the greatest utility, as not only a check to the 
" influx of irregularities, but a preservative of sound- 
" ness and purity in doctrine, as vjell as an orderly and 
" uniform practice in all parts of the Church." f 

It is obvious that a question affecting a change in 
the'formof worship, should be brought up in the higher 
Courts, before it is submitted to the Congregation. The 
latter course is contrary to the whole spirit of Presby- 
terian Church G-overnment, whereas the former is 
constitutional. The world is rapidly progressing ; old 
things do pass away, and new ones come in their 
places ; but surely if any proposed change have real merit 
and is likely to prove beneficial, its promoters have 
nothing to fear from submitting it to, and advocating its 
claims before, the intelligent assemblies that legislate for 
the peace and welfare of the Presbyterian Church. 

* Hill's Theological Institutes. 

f The Eeligions of the World, p. 147. London, 1870. 


It may be said that the ordination vow of a minister 
is too stringent. Clergyman themselves should be the 
best judges of this matter. The laws and usages of the 
Church of Scotland are not unchangeable, like those of 
the Medes and Persians, but until they are changed 
it is perfectly legitimate to insist on their observance, 
and to protest against sinister attempts at ignoring their 
existence, on the part of those who are presumedly the best 
acquainted with them. It would probably be the better 
course, for persons wishing to promulgate opinions in- 
consistent with moral science, to contravene the consti- 
tution of our Church, and to tamper with matters calcu- 
lated to disturb its peace and harmony — to look for some 
more congenial atmosphere beyond its pale. Or, if this 
sentence should appear too harsh, it assuredly is not un- 
reasonable to demand, that those conscientiously desiring 
reform should at least be able to specify and prove the 
abuse, and to employ none but legitimate means in 
effecting its redress. 

Now briefly let us assume that standing were legally 
displaced by the proper Court, and kneeling substituted 
therefor, in some leading Presbyterian Church, say in St. 
Paul's, which 1 only instance by way of illustration, as in 
it, happily, there are no restrictions respecting posture 
in worship. It has its peculiarities, but these are not in 
question at present. In St. Paul's, then, the result of the 
change, apart from the evil effects of investing forms 
with a presumed importance, would probably be two- 
fold. First, it would be obnoxious to those attached to 
the old form, who, even should they be a small minority, 
would be entitled to have their opinions respected. 
Schism would be engendered, and the peace and 
harmony of the Congregation would be disturbed. 
It is no easy matter to persuade an aged person, 
deeply attached to the service of his Church that certain 
forms, which his judgment has approved for half a 
century, are becoming obsolete, and are now suscepti- 


ble of " a large and acknowledged improvement." Such 
a person is rather disgusted with the idea of laying stress 
on a matter but slightly connected with true religion. 
Moreover he has a pardonable and natural preference 
for long established faultless form. This preference is 
to be found in religion itself. " A man born in a Moho- 
" metan country," says Froude, " grows up a Mohome- 
" tan ; in a Catholic country, a Catholic ; in a Protes- 
" tant country, a Protestant. His opinions are like his 
" language ; he learns to think as he learns to speak." 
Early association is a strong motive power. 

Next, would not the other Presbyterian Churches 
throughout Canada be to some extent influenced by the 
action of a leading Congregation like that of St. Paul's, 
one to which many of these churches have been indebted 
for support and encouragement, and to whose pastoral 
management they have been accustomed to some extent 
to look for guidance ? Would not innovation become 
contagious ; what right would St. Paul's have to a mon- 
opoly ? There is a strong presumption that many other 
churches would follow in its footsteps. Then what 
guarantee have we, that innovation would cease with the 
simple change of posture in prayer ? Once we dispense 
with scripture and precedent in matters of form, we are 
infinitely worse off than the Episcopalians, for they have 
in addition, the guidance of a Book of Prayer, beyond the 
provisions of which they cannot go, whereas we would 
be perfectly at sea, bereft of rudder and keel, and with- 
out any certainty how soon we might be washed upon 
the shores of the Tiber. Speaking of Episcopalians, it is 
remarkable that the dissenters from Episcopacy gravi- 
tated towards the Presbyterian simplicity of form, and 
that the Church of England, saving a small section, find- 
ing that it could not hold its right place in the hearts of 
the people, in turn gravitated in the direction of the dis- 
senters, and thus gained new life and vigour. Strange 
that in our day, Presbyterianism should drift in that very 


direction which drove millions from Episcopacy, and 
attached them to the simpler forms of worship of the 
dissenters. It is no less remarkable that the only great 
defection that took place from the Church of Scotland, 
namely, that of the Free Church, was not by reason of 
any dislike to the forms of the Mother Church. It cer- 
tainly cannot be said that those w T ho broke away from 
the establishment in Scotland, in 1843, headed by the 
great Chalmers, were lacking either in " style of edu- 
cation," intellectual ability, or in zeal to serve God. Yet 
they did not deem a renovation of the then existing 
worship necessary. Nay they adopted its forms to the 
letter, and the Free Church of the present day is a more 
determined conservator of these, than even the Kirk 

And, if w T e are to unite with this great christian 
body, the similarity of our Church forms is of inestima- 
ble importance. Neither would have to sacrifice any- 
thing in this respect. Now, keeping in view the desira- 
bility of a closer relationship with the Free Church, 
would it not be highly imprudent for individual 
churches, or for the Church of Scotland in Canada, as a 
whole, to introduce or countenance innovations, that 
would throw an obstacle in the way of the consumma- 
tion of union between the two great Presbyterian 

I consider this one circumstance of sufficient im- 
portance to warrant every true Presbyterian in vigor- 
ously opposing innovation in our forms, the very severity 
of which, through now alleged to be " a grievous hin- 
drance to communion with the Church of Scotland," has 
won many adherents to her pale. 

in conclusion perhaps some explanation is necessary. 
Did 1 not believe that much delusion exists on this subject 
I would not have undertaken to expose what I would 
fain believe to be a misconception arising from an error 
of judgment, or a want of proper appreciation of the 


subject — though none the less dangerous on this account. 
This I have attempted to do by investigating the sub- 
ject of posture in prayer. I have endeavoured to found 
my opinions on reason and the best authorities ; with 
these weapons to meet every issue on its merits, and to 
deal with each as summarily as the circumstances seemed 
to require. It is not safe to toy with a serpent. 

I have studiously endeavoured to avoid giving undue 
importance to form, and if a charge of this kind can be 
made against any one, it is assuredly against the innova- 
tor who would clothe non-essentials in religion with an 
importance not their own, and then dexterously attempt 
to escape the odium of his act by shifting the burden of 
responsibility on those who are satisfied with the formu- 
la that obtained in the Church of their fathers. To sow 
the seeds of discord with the hand and to shout peace 
with the lips, is an artifice too glaring, to escape con- 

Presbyterians cannot be said to have a bigoted at- 
tachment to their forms of worship ; and as proof of this, 
few Congregations have refused to stand during singing 
when it was explained to them that this posture was 
better adapted, on scientific grounds, for engaging in 
this religious exercise than sitting, and when the request 
was unaccompanied with a proposal to change the whole 
character of their form of service. They have very pro- 
perly been tenacious of the traditions and standards of 
their Church, and in this opinion many of the best and 
wisest divines have concurred. Let us hear the testimony 
of one of these, one whose name has hitherto at least 
been much revered by christians of all denominations in 
Canada ; it will not be less respected because it comes 
from the tomb. He may perhaps speak with some au- 
thority — the professed servant of Grod for nearly half a 
century, a man of genuine piety, whose dignity of bear- 
ing, unabated in the presence of Royalty, preserved the 
indisputable Status of our Church, — but I should be 


ashamed to write a panegyric for Dr. Mathieson. I 
shall borrow the words of his mourning and eminent 
brother, who standing near his bier, paid just tribute to 
the memory of the dead ; " We his copresbyters are called 
" to mourn the loss of the father of our Presbytery, the 
" father indeed of our Church in Canada." Perhaps 
the opinions of such a man will still be respected. Here 
is one of them : — " I am one of the old school, and 
11 cling to the forms that have done more for Scotland 
11 than any new fangled nostrums will ever accomplish 
" for her. The piety of the people has been cherished 
" and sustained by the good sense, deep thought and 
" godly feelings of her ministers. As these qualities de- 
" cay, somewhat of the Lee, Tulloch, or Story school 
" may be brought in with seeming advantage for a time, 
" but I am afraid that with such forms the people in this 
" age will get formal too." 

It is pardonable to defend an existing all-sufficient 
custom, which by long continuance has acquired the 
force of law ; not so, to attempt its subversion by begging 
a preference for innovation. To adopt the latter course, 
is to cast an apple of discord into a Congregation, calcu- 
lated to disturb its harmony, and to draw off the atten- 
tion of the people from their eternal interests. 

While the firebrand of innovation is in effect inge- 
niously contending that one attitude is more impressive, 
or " more conducive to truer devotion," and perplexing 
the minds of men with a fallacy, death, inexorable, snaps 
the thread that suspends frail man from eternity. The hu- 
man ashes are committed to the grave ; which may be in 
the sacred, solemn Church yard, where, beside the narrow 
plot, there waves the weeping willow ; where, when the 
sun shines, a mother or a sister may sit and weep, and 
scatter sweet scented flowers ; which may be on the cold 
bleak hillside, where the piercing blast whistles a shrill 
lament amidst the ghost-like forms of tombs that strew 
the city of the dead ; or which may be in the deep un- 


fathomable sea, down amidst the haunts of monsters, 
indigenous to a watery waste, the naturalist would like 
to investigate, but cannot. Soon the flesh becomes putrid, 
the ligaments become relaxed, maggots and lizards 
revel in the remains of human debris. Nor is the sea- 
tomb unmolested. Even there, those remains we once 
prided ourselves in making the instruments of worship, 
are not permitted the luxury of a common grave. The 
uncompromising wave, the voracious shark, and the 
innumerable horde of species inhabiting the depths of 
ocean, make common cause against their sepulture. But 
the great soul — where is it ? 

We believe that our Church has been a potent in- 
strument of Christianity, even with its existing machinery. 
Let us not incur the risk of impairing its efficiency by 
displacing, without reason, forms that are all-sufficient 
for the purposes of Christian worship, and alienating the 
affections of thousands of its adherents who know T and ad- 
mire its history. The introduction of changes in the forms 
of worship, whether by the adoption of new attitudes in 
devotion, or the use of prescribed prayers, or a liturgy, 
simply means the Episcopal/' anizing of Presbyterianism. 

I am afraid the latter will not stand the transformation ; 
not by reason of any imperfection in the proposed model, 
which is a noble one, a system unique in itself and beau- 
tifully elaborated, but as ill-adapted for assimilation to 
Presbyterianism, as Presbyterianism, is to Episcopacy. 
Each system is the outgrowth of a different set of cir- 
cumstances, has its own history, and its own character- 
istics, which even a fusion of both could not obliterate. 
A waiter in the Quarterly Review, criticising the Duke of 
Argyll's Essay on Presbytery, which recommends the 
introduction of certain innovations in the Church of 
Scotland, among others a Liturgy, thus speaks of Pres- 
byterianism as it exists : — " Whatever may be said or 

II thought of it, at least it is definite, masculine and posi- 
" tive. It has a character of its own — a countenance of 


" lines deep drawn and ineffaceable. It has shown a 
" tenacity of life, a substantiveness of view, an earnest- 
" ness of purpose, which give it a place exalted and 
" alone among its sisters of the Continental Keforma- 
" tion." And the same writer, commenting on the ad- 
visability of departing from the established formula of 
the Presbyterian Church, and of adopting certain innova- 
tions recommended by his Lordship, astutely remarks : 
11 Their introduction, in a view which we may term 
" utilitarian, w T ould do nothing for the true religious life 
" that undoubtedly and warmly breathes in Scottish 
" Presbyterianism, but would tend to formality, dryness, 
" and corruption. They would be as a fable without its 
" moral, as a lock without its key, as the bright colors of 
11 the kaleidoscope, which present no meaning ; nay, 
" they would exhibit a positive and repulsive incon- 
" gruity, as pointed architecture for a factory, or a crown 
" upon the head of President Cass. They would give us 
" a travestied, not an enlarged Presbyterianism. But we need 
" have no quarrel on this subject. These are prescriptions 
" which the patient will certainly throw out of the window, 
" perhaps before the doctor has turned his back." " Severely 
simple" though the service of the Church of Scotland 
may be, it has resisted, since its adoption, the ceremonial 
inroads of two ecclesiastical hierarchies, and preserved 
its individuality unscathed through the furnace of reli- 
gious and political persecution. Shall we now relinquish 
it, without reason or advantage, to secure more fancy 
forms ? Alas ! that it should come to this, that the 
usages of our martyred reformers, endeared to the Scot- 
tish people by historical recollection, consecrated by the 
blood of the covenanter, founded on the warrant of Scrip- 
ture, and adapted to the unchanging christian require- 
ments of every age, should now give way to " the tastes 
of an age of rapidly growing culture and refinement ! " 
If these are to be changed, let us at least have a reason, 
and the change effected by the proper means. But if no 


valid reason can be assigned for their subversion, then 
let us transmit them to posterity, intact as we received 
them, a sacred legacy from a people that detested for- 
mality, and loved religion for its own sake — an heirloom 
from an age of purity, simplicity, and truth. 






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